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Syrian Violence Continues, Child Torture in Syria, Eurozone Crisis

Aired June 15, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our special weekend edition of the program, where we bring you two of the big stories we covered this week.

And it has been a hellish week in Syria, with particularly disturbing U.N. reports revealing evidence that children are being tortured, they're being killed, they're being used as human shields. We have powerful interviews from two courageous people on the front lines, who are documenting atrocities in Syria, seeking the hard evidence.

And later in the program, my exclusive interview with the new leader of the Syrian National Council, Abdulbaset Sieda, on how he's going to unify the fragmented opposition fighting the Assad regime. But first, Greece is having elections this weekend, and that could turn into a hellish situation for the Eurozone. I will talk to a key player in the struggle to hold the zone together.

Christine Lagarde is the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and we talked about her biggest concerns for an increasingly tenuous European Union.


AMANPOUR: Christine Lagarde, thank you very much for joining me.

LAGARDE: My pleasure. It's lovely to see you.

AMANPOUR: Do you agree with George Soros' assessment that there's three months to save the euro?

LAGARDE: He's -- George's is very good at setting, you know, sort of deadlines and attracting the attention, which is good, because the -- you know, there has to be attention paid to the current situation.

But I think, you know, it needs to happen -- various things need to happen shortly.

AMANPOUR: Such as? Or what we've just been discussing?

LAGARDE: Shortly. Yes. More shortly than three months, I would say.

And it's not to say that there is a deadline and that the whole, you know, situation is going to unravel. I think the -- you know, the construction of the Eurozone has taken time. And it's work in construction at the moment. And it keeps being improved and amended and strengthened over time. Markets are finding it too slow and, clearly, that's the message that is being delivered.

AMANPOUR: Do you think Greece is going to exit the euro?

LAGARDE: My hope is that Greece, once it has resolved its current election situation and has a government in place, based on a coalition, I suppose, can actually restore the conditions of a good dialogue and will implement the reforms, and will put in place the measures that are necessary for that country to stay within the Eurozone.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's possible, where they are right now?

LAGARDE: It's going to be a question of political determination and drive to actually do so.

AMANPOUR: You've been asked about what is ailing Greece and you've been asked to comment on the personal pain that many Greeks are feeling. And you commented that, you know, from your point of view, it would be much better if the Greeks paid their taxes and that that would fix things.

Do you still stand by that?

LAGARDE: Let me put it that way, I have respect for Greece, for the Greek population. And I'm very sorry that my comments were taken in a very -- you know, in a very inflammatory way and created offense. That I very much regret.

But equally, I think that tax compliance is a necessary tool to restore any country's situation, Greece, like others.

AMANPOUR: There's a -- the front page of "The Economist" is showing the ship of the economy, the ship of state of the economy sinking. You can see right there. And on it is said, "Ms. Merkel, can we start the engines now?" A lot of the onus is on Angela Merkel. Is that fair?

LAGARDE: Germany is the largest country in the Eurozone. So now, a lot of the pressure is on Germany to actually help out. But I fully understand, as well, that Germany, in consideration for the help that it could give in starting the engine, will expect that others are also doing, you know, what they have to do.

AMANPOUR: Do you think if Angela Merkel wasn't a woman, she would get this amount of pushback?

LAGARDE: No. I think it -- well, I think she's a very strong leader. She's a very courageous woman. She's always very keen to understand fully the situation and I think she has a very solid sense of balance, you know. It's a give-and-take process. It's a two-way street. And, you know, what's in it for her, for Germany, what's in it for others and how do we balance out the situation?

AMANPOUR: But you think she wouldn't be under such global attack if she wasn't a woman?

LAGARDE: Hmm. Well, Germany is Germany and the economic forces are the same. But I think that there is a slight tendency to actually maybe overdramatize, and maybe the media participate in the process, the pressure under which she is. And it's, you know, surprisingly, and very practically, a male-dominated world, where she stands out.

AMANPOUR: President Obama today addressed the world. He did an appearance at the White House, talked about the economy and focused a lot on the crisis in Europe. Listen to what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they are just cutting and cutting and cutting and their unemployment rate is going up and up and up, and people are pulling back further from spending money because they're feeling a lot of pressure, ironically, that can actually make it harder for them to carry out some of these reforms over the long term.


AMANPOUR: Do you agree?

LAGARDE: Countries cannot carry on growing, creating jobs, if they carry on their back a huge amount of public debt. So there is no doubt that public debt has to be gradually, over time, reduced. How do you reduce public debt? By having less deficit.

How do you reduce deficit? By either having significant growth and therefore revenues, or cutting spending. And you probably need to do a combination of both in order to reduce deficit, which will reduce debt, which will allow, in turn, economies to grow and create jobs.

AMANPOUR: Isn't it, though, about the timing and the -- when you do it? I mean, Paul Krugman, who's been like a Cassandra, has actually seemed to have got it right, that austerity should happen in boom times and not in bust times.

And if we look at some of our graphs that we have, for instance, let's look at how austerity has affected the unemployment rate. If I do this, you'll see the unemployment rate has been quite low in 2008. What happened then? We had a recession.

So it rose right up to here until there was a recovery. And then unemployment sort of leveled off a little bit and then this happened, austerity. And this happened to the unemployment rate, all the way up again. What do you say to that, though? I mean is it -- does Paul Krugman and the Keynesians, do they have a point?

LAGARDE: You need to reduce the fiscal deficit gradually, steadily. It doesn't have to be this belt-tightening that everybody is talking about, but it has to be solid.

It applies to the United States of America, by the way. It also has to indicate how, in the medium- and long-term, it is going to reduce its deficit and reduce the volume of its debt. So that's what needs to happen.

At the same time, there has to be encouragement for the growth.

AMANPOUR: Is it about not having the funds or is it about not having the political mechanism and the political will to deal with this?

LAGARDE: Everybody has skin in the game. Everybody has a stake in this being resolved, because all the economies are vastly interconnected. That's what President Obama has indicated. There is a clear connection and vulnerability to what is happening elsewhere in the world, particularly when it's the Eurozone, which is a major trading partner.

AMANPOUR: Christine Lagarde, thank you very much, indeed.

LAGARDE: Thank you.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, and now to Syria. Robert King is a photojournalist on the front lines. He's been shooting inside Syria for the past month. I spoke to him about Kasir (ph), a town in Homs province that has been the target of unimaginable violence by the Assad regime, including violence against children.


AMANPOUR: Robert King, thank you very much for joining me.

ROBERT KING, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Thank you so much, Christiane, for having me on your show.

AMANPOUR: We have seen these amazing pictures that you have sent out of Syria, and you've been filming for more than a month there. Some of them, to be frank, we can barely look at, and we can hardly air because they are so grim. What must it be like to actually witness that yourself and try to do the job that you're doing?

KING: It was hard, it was discouraging, like you said, there was very little footage that I made that could get aired. But I didn't know what else to do. I couldn't make art out of this -- the suffering. And I tried to compose it in a humanistic way. It was -- it was tough, you know, I wasn't going to break down inside the hospital, but I -- it was hard to keep your wits.

AMANPOUR: You've seen the worst of the worst, how they can possibly be targeting these children. How does this compare with other places that you've been, that I've been, Bosnia and other such places?

KING: I've never seen anything like it. I mean, it's the butcher of Syria. He's targeting civilians. I've never photographed so many wounded kids in one small village that would, you know, really, I think, represents what's going on all across the country. In 20 years, I've not photographed so many wounded kids and the -- it seems like that a lot of the world is indifferent about these horrific crimes.

AMANPOUR: They've sat up and taken notice; your pictures have done it. The U.N. report has done it. They've now come out and said officially that this is targeting of children in a wholly inappropriate and illegal manner. What did you hear from the doctors who you followed as well, not only are there these terrible attacks on children, but is there the medical wherewithal to treat them?

KING: They do the best they can with what little supplies they have. And no, I mean, they learn as they go.

AMANPOUR: You spent a long time in that village of Kasir (ph). Why did they think that they were being targeted? What did the doctors tell you, the families tell you about why the civilians, why the children were being so badly injured?

KING: They assumed it was collective punishment. Then they were -- believe that it was because of their religious beliefs, that they were Sunni that they were being targeted. Not only -- and also because they were supporting the revolution. So you have this regime that's trying to kill the revolutionaries and they're trying to kill the offspring of the revolutionary and it's ethnic genocide.

AMANPOUR: And what else did you see when you were traveling for that month that you spent inside?

KING: It was terrible. You know, I would do stories on artists, and then he died. So a lot of the stories of, you know, the -- one day the -- one of the media center cameramen were killed.

That same day, two members of the media center had their brothers killed, just constant death and pain and suffering and, you know, and everyone's walking around with bloodstained shirts, you know, sleeping when you can, trying to not let the shells that are exploding intimidate you.

AMANPOUR: Did you get to talk to any government soldiers or government types? Did you get to ask them what they were doing and why they were doing it?

KING: Unfortunately not, you know, I wasn't able to speak to the Assad regime. I did photograph the Assad army that has taken over the main hospital in al-Kasir (ph), that may use it as a staging ground and a snipers' nest. But other than that, you know, I wasn't able to -- it's too dangerous.

AMANPOUR: So if they've taken over the main hospital, where did the doctor do his work?

KING: He works in a bombed-out house. It's a home that was -- where the -- a lot of it was destroyed by tank fire. So he's basically converted a couple bedrooms into a recovery center and operation center.

They use a 2" x 4" for, you know, to strap the arms down, to -- when they stick in their morphine or plasma bags or IVs. It's pretty grim and pretty gruesome. You know, I don't even know -- and they use a desk lamp to illuminate the operating room. They have some type of tool that heats up and cuts through skin, but they have to plug it in and sometimes the electricity goes off, so they have to run it on a generator.

AMANPOUR: Well, your pictures really do paint the horrific image of what's happening inside Syria. Thank you very much for being with me today, Robert.

KING: Well, thank you so much, Christiane. I enjoyed it --

AMANPOUR: You take care.

KING: I will. Thank you so much.


AMANPOUR: So how to take the awful images we've seen and interpret the legal ramifications? Nadim Houry works for Human Rights Watch, documenting the brutality in the country. I spoke with him about how the Assad regime has targeted children since the very earliest days of the uprising.


AMANPOUR: Nadim Houry, thank you for joining me from Beirut.

NADIM HOURY, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: I recall the beginning of this conflict, almost starting with children, what outraged so many people was that children in Dara'a were tortured, abducted, held. Tell me what happened back then and the pattern of the use of children.

HOURY: What started the whole uprising was a dissension (ph) of a group of young teenagers, who had been inspired by the Arab Spring and went and scribbled on some walls on their school, you know, "Down with the regime."

And it was the subsequent torture of these children and the way the head of one of the security agencies dealt with their parents when they came asking for the, you know, for their children, to see them, that sparked the whole thing.

We've interviewed children who were detained with adults for weeks, sometimes held in solitary confinement, subjected to horrible torture. Some of these kids, some of them are 14, 15, find themselves today peeing on themselves at night because they still cannot control their anxiety. I mean, the toll, the toll on the future generations of Syria cannot be underestimated.

AMANPOUR: How do you go about gathering and documenting your evidence, because of course Human Rights Watch put out a similar report much earlier than the U.N. report. How do you do the actual evidence gathering?

HOURY: Sure. In three key manners, one, we've got teams deployed at Syria's borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, and we're there waiting for people who've escaped, people who've been detained and released and who make it to a neighboring country, to interview them in-depth.

Secondly, in areas, particularly in northern Syria, that are de facto under the control of the opposition, we were able to send some people who were able to cross over and visit some of these villages in Idlib and other parts.

And finally, we've been working on Syria for years, so we have an extensive network of activists, human rights activists, whom we know personally, whom we trust, who are key in helping us identifying cases and interviewing these victims inside Syria.

AMANPOUR: When you look at what happened in Houla, for instance, are you sure of who did what to whom?

HOURY: No, we're not sure, and this is why we called on the U.N. to investigate and to make that report public. And we told the Russians, you say you care about the truth? So make sure there's an independent international investigation on the ground, and guess what?

There's one that was appointed last year by the Human Rights Council, but the Syrian government doesn't want to let them in.

But what we can say is we spoke to three survivors from the Abdaraza (ph) family, whom had 60 members killed in Houla. But what they told us, the surviving witnesses, was that there were armed gunmen, who came and shot them, and that these armed gunmen were pro-government.

And when we asked them, well, how do you know they were pro- government, they said, because of the slogans they were shouting and because of the way they were talking to us. You know, is this enough to indict them? No. Is it enough to push for an investigation? Definitely.

There's also a second element. If it was the opposition that committed these massacres, at least in Houla, why are most of these surviving members now, you know, sheltering with the opposition?

AMANPOUR: And, finally, what do you think is going to be the pattern as this struggle continues, this fight?

HOURY: I think we're going to see -- there are going to be multiple conflicts inside Syria. It's going to start looking increasingly like a sectarian civil war.

And in the main cities, where the regime still can contain, you know, still have strong control on the ground, it's going to look like what it looked a year ago, activists trying to come out and protest through forms of civil resistance and basically security forces arresting them, disappearing them, and in many cases, beating and torturing them in detention.

AMANPOUR: Nadim Houry, thank you very much for joining me.

HOURY: Thank you for having me.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now to Syria. The United States and the West have often cited a fragmented Syrian opposition as a reason not to intervene in the struggle between rebels and the Assad regime. Now the opposition is trying to unify and strengthen under a new elected leader just this week.

His name is Abdulbaset Sieda. He's a Kurd who's been living in exile in Sweden for the past couple of decades. I spoke to him in an exclusive interview from Istanbul, Turkey.


AMANPOUR: Abdulbaset Sieda, thank you so much for joining me from Istanbul.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Sieda, let me ask you first, the SNC is set up partly to have links with the West and to be able to understand the Syrian opposition. What can you do to unify the opposition?

American officials say we don't know who the opposition is. They're fragmented. We don't know who is doing what. How can you answer that question?

SIEDA (through translator): I think the Syrian opposition is now clear to everybody and obvious, especially the foundation of the SNC, that has many sectors and many groups, opposition groups from liberal and Islamist groups and civil groups. And there are other groups.

We haven't joined the SNC yet and we work with them to have a united position and we are in direct communication with the people inside and the activists inside. And we are trying to unite all the positions against the regime. But saying that the opposition is not clear, this description is not accurate right now because we have a clear face to the opposition now.

AMANPOUR: There are complaints that the SNC, the political umbrella group which you are now leading, is out of touch with the rebels who are fighting on the ground inside Syria, with the Free Syrian Army, and whoever else is there, trying to fight against the regime.

What kind of links do you have with the fighters on the ground? And is it an organized group?

SIEDA (through translator): Of course we are in direct communication with the FSA. But first, I say we did not take the decision to found this army, but these were dissidents and defectors from the Syrian army and they decided to form an army. But if we leave it to the FSA, there might be chaos.

AMANPOUR: But if I understand you, you said that you do support sending weapons now to the FSA and to the rebels inside Syria. Do you believe that this is only going to be resolved now by military force? Or do you think that there is any way that there will be a political resolution between President Assad and the opposition?

SIEDA (through translator): We ask and demand the international community since the very beginning of the revolution. We had the national solution and asked for dialogue with the regime and we said that Bashar al- Assad could remain in power.

But with the continuance of daily killings, it appears that Bashar al- Assad is a part of that problem, not the solution. And when the Arab League could not do what is necessary, we went to the international community and we say that political resolution and solution is the basis for all internal and external crises.

But this regime is formed of an invisible group that makes decisions. So we cannot deal with a group of -- a gang of murderers who kill Syrian civilians every day. That's why we asked the international community to intervene or things will get out of control.

And if this happened, then we would have disastrous results and not only in Syria, but it will extend -- it would extent to Lebanon and Iraq and Turkey and Jordan and to all the neighbors.

AMANPOUR: Abdulbaset Sieda, thank you very much for joining me from Istanbul.

SIEDA: Thank you very much. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open,, where we read every single email -- imagine that. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.